PENGUNS CLASSIFIED AS FIREARMS
Manufacturers and Importers of
Firearms and Others Concerned:
Purpose. This is to inform you that a new ruling reclassifies small
caliber weapons (such as penguns) ostensibly designed to expel only tear
gas, similar substances or pyrotechnic signals, which may readily be con-
verted to expel a projectile by means of an explosive, as firearms. The
new ruling, which will be published soon in the ATF Bulletin, will read
The Bureau has re-examined its position with respect to the
applicability of Titles I and II of the Gun Control Act of 1968
(Chapter 44 of Title 18 U.S.C., and Chapter 53 of Title 26 U.S.C.
(National Firearms Act)), to small caliber weapons (commonly
known as "penguns") ostensibly designed to expel only tear gas,
similar substances or pyrotechnic signals by the action of an
Revenue Ruling 56-29, C.B. 1956-1, 552 (Internal Revenue)
held that a tear gas gun designed to expel only a gas or other
mist rather than a shot or a projectile was not a "firearm" as
that term was previously defined in the repealed Federal Fire-
arms Act and in the National Firearms Act. Revenue Ruling
56-29 also held that if such a device was capable of firing
other than the shells or cartridges designed for use therewith,
such as fixed metallic cartridges or shotgun shells, it would
be a "firearm" within the purview of the National and/or
Federal Firearms Acts, depending upon the individual
characteristics of the device.
The Bureau has had occasion to re-examine such weapons for
the purpose of determining their status under the Gun Control
Act. of 1968. Such weapons are readily concealable and ostensibly
designed to expel only tear gas, similar substances or pyro-
technic signals by the action of an explosive, normally by
means of a firing mechanism designed to accept a plastic or
extruded aluminum helix-type disposable cartridge.
Unlike the definition of "firearm" in the repealed Federal
Firearms Act, the term "firearm" as used in 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(3)
includes "any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is
designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile
by the action of an explosive." Tests performed on these
weapons have established that they may readily be converted
to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive, normally
by means of a minor alteration of the expended Helix cartridge
and/or the simple attachment of a barrel/chamber to the firing
Held, a small caliber weapon ostensibly designed to expel
only tear gas, similar substances or pyrotechnic signals by
the action of an explosive, which may readily be converted to
expel a projectile by means of an explosive, constitutes a
"firearm" within the purview of 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(3)(A).
Such weapons manufactured within the United States on or
after June 1, 1975, will be subject to all of the pro-
visions of Chapter 44 and 26 CFR Part 178. Such weapons
manufactured before June 1, 1975, will not be treated as
subject to the provisions of Chapter 44 and 26 CFR Part 178
in order to allow persons manufacturing and dealing in such
weapons to comply with the provisions of Chapter 44 and
26 CFR Part 178.
Since such weapons are not generally recognized as
particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting
purposes (18 U.S.C. 925(d)(3)), the importation of such
weapons is prohibited unless such importation comes within
one of the statutory exceptions provided in 18 U.S.C. 925.
The importation of such weapons pursuant to an unexpired
permit will not be affected by this Ruling.
The Bureau has long held that such weapons when actually
converted to fire other than the gas or pyrotechnic cartridges
originally designed for use therewith are "firearms" under
Chapter 44 and the National Firearms Act, depending upon the
individual characteristics of the weapon. See Revenue Ruling
56-29, supra, and Revenue Ruling 56-597, C.B. 1956-2, 931
(Internal Revenue). These determinations with respect to the
converted weapon were not altered by the amended definitions
of the term "firearm" now found in 18 U.S.C. 921 (a)(3) and
the term "any other weapon" in 26 U.S.C. 5845(e). Accordingly,
any such weapon which is capable of being concealed on the
person which has originally been designed or converted to
discharge a shot through the energy of an explosive will remain
subject to the provisions of the National Firearms Act as an
"any other weapon" (26 U.S.C. 5845(e)).
Revenue Ruling 56-29, C.B. 1956-1, 552 (Internal
Revenue), is hereby revoked.
Inquiries. Inquiries regarding this circular should refer to
its number and be addressed to your Regional Director, Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Rex D. Davis